The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is filing yet another lawsuit against the Syracuse Police Department, this time for a police officer’s alleged use of force against an a teenager walking home on his birthday.
The NYCLU laid out the details and announced it was taking legal action on Sept. 27, the same day as their client’s birthday, a teenager identified only as “T.H.”
Last Wednesday, the NYCLU said on Sept. 27, 2016, the then 14-year-old boy was walking home with his twin brother when a school resource officer working for the Syracuse Police Department placed him in a choke hold.
According to a statement released by NYCLU, the twins were walking home from Corcoran High School in the city when a fight broke out near J.T. Roberts K-8 School. The brothers initially tried to break it up and things cooled briefly before tensions escalated and second fight erupted minutes later further down the street.
This time, two plain-clothes police officers, officer Paul Rose and Sgt. Dennis Regin – both resource officers at the high school – arrived on the scene and T.H. said that was when Rose pointed at his brother. As he was trying to get his brother to focus on continuing their walk home, someone grabbed him.
“…Regin dragged T.H. by the neck and threw him to the ground, choking him for more than 45 seconds,” the NYCLU statement reads. “T.H. lost consciousness. Officer Rose slammed his knee into T.H.’s neck and smashed his chin into the ground, causing a large gash. Though T.H. was bleeding, Sergeant Regin refused to take him to the hospital. T.H. also suffered pain in his neck, a bruised leg and emotional distress.”
NYCLU goes on to say T.H. was later ticketed for resisting arrests and obstructing the officers from doing their jobs. As such, the lawsuit says the Syracuse Police Department violated the teen’s constitutional rights to protection from the use of excessive force.
This is not the first time law enforcement officials in Syracuse have been sued for this kind of behavior. In 2010, NYCLU filed a similar lawsuit against the police following an incident where Andre Epps, then a 15-year-old ninth grader at Fowler High School, was tazed by an officer after he tried breaking up a fight outside of his school bus. He was then arrested and later released without charges.
In 2014, former Henninger High School student Trevon Hanks was added a plaintiff in that suit following a 2012 incident where he was tazed by a different officer. Hanks had laid down in the hallway and called his mom after panicking about the possibility he might not graduate that year. The incident occurred on his 18th birthday.
Both Epps and Hanks received a $5,000 settlement and the Syracuse Police Department revamped its policy, stating Tazers should only be used on actively aggressive people who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others.
Last September – almost a week before the twins’ altercation with resource officers – was also when the NYCLU and the Legal Services of Central New York (LSCNY) filed a different lawsuit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and the Syracuse City School District.
The organizations had found, among other issues, the 16- and 17-year old students sent to the Justice Center jail in Syracuse languished in solitary confinement, “for weeks and months on end,” and the teens – many with mental health issues – were forced to live in unsanitary conditions and subject to sexual harassment by adults.
In February, a U.S. District Court Judge ordered the Justice Center to stop using solitary confinement.
The NYCLU Statement also makes note of how the group and members of the city’s Citizens Review Board have been calling on the Syracuse law enforcement officials to specifically deal with the persistent use of excessive force by officers.
“The Citizen Review Board has consistently reported the need to overhaul SPD’s use-of-force policy, and this case shows why the city and the police cannot afford to delay that work,” said NYCLU Central New York Chapter Director Yusuf Abdul-Qadir.
Neither the Citizens Review Board nor Abdul-Qadir returned a request for comment and a spokesperson for the NYCLU said other members of the organization were unavailable for comment. Representatives from the Syracuse Department have said they do not comment on pending litigation.
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